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“Why did you self-publish?”

I get asked this question a lot, often with the unspoken assumption:

“You weren’t good enough to get a real publisher so you did it yourself, right?”

There are so many self-publishers out there, and so many who are doing a terrible job of it, that I can understand this assumption. It is the true state of play for a lot of self-publishers –

Tried to get a big publisher interested, kept getting knocked back – did it myself.

Or

Too scared of even trying because I can’t handle criticism or rejection – did it myself.

But now and then you come across a self-publisher/author-publisher, or whatever you want to call it, who has taken this journey for a different reason. The two most common ones I hear are:

“I write niche fiction that no big publisher will touch because it doesn’t fit into their neat little marketing boxes.”

“I wanted more control over my product. Over my art and my editor and everything.”

Quite boringly I fall into category number two. I’m a perfectionist. I am obsessed with my work, with improving my craft, with presentation and details and branding. A lot of authors prefer to have someone making the big decisions for them so they can just get on with the business of writing, and I get that, but I get so much joy from every stage of the process that letting someone else take over the post-production would make me sad. I don’t want to miss out on half the fun.

So as a complete no one I decided that this was the path I wanted to take. I could have tried to make a name for myself in the writing world first by hunting that Big 5 publisher, and the decision not to was no easy thing. I knew it would be hard work, that I would be hacking my way through untraversed ground with a machete, that I would have to learn so much if I was ever going to make it work, but that was the adventure I chose.

Not because I couldn’t get a publisher. Not because I was afraid of criticism. But because I had a dream and the road to that dream had two paths and I chose the thorny one knowing it would be harder but ultimately more fulfilling and rewarding.

So… should I self-publish?

Of course everyone is going to give you a different answer depending on their own experiences, beliefs and prejudices. Self-publishers might rave about their followings or talk about how the publishing industry is going down the toilet and they don’t want to get flushed with the tangled mass of red tape and old-school ideas. Traditionally published authors might talk about the support they get or natter about social media and blogs and twitter followers. But no matter how compelling any of it might be, don’t ever EVER let anyone else tell you what to do with your career.

Let’s assume for a moment that you have a wonderful manuscript (because until you do you shouldn’t be contemplating either) the choice of whether to self-publish or traditionally publish it is a deeply personal question. It depends on whether you are able to step outside yourself and promote it. It depends on whether the nitty-gritty of production interests you (because if it doesn’t you’ll hate it and therefore do it badly). It depends on what your dream actually is and how thrilling or frightening you find the prospect of the journey.

Because if you hate the idea of having to:

 write your own blurbs

 and choose your own art

and your fonts

 and liaise with your typesetter

and your printer

and learn the difference between recto and verso

 and comb through proofs

and deal with contractors

 and money

and withheld tax

and registering ISBNs and barcodes

and a million other things besides…

… then damn well get yourself a traditional publisher now and get on with writing awesome book after awesome book. But if all that sounds exciting, and promotion is within your social ability, then maybe self-publishing might be your road. Either way, no one can tell you what suits you, or what is best for you, except for you.

That wasn’t very helpful!

Well if it helps I can give you a list of shitty reasons to self-publish.

(Complete with percentage of shittiness because I quite like math)

  • Because some dodgy statistics said self-publishers make more money
  • Because someone told you to
  • Because you’re afraid of having to deal with the criticism of an editor
  • Because every publisher and agent on the face of the earth has turned it down

If you are considering self-publishing, ask yourself two questions.

“Is the book actually ready? Like… REALLY ready. If your manuscript isn’t good enough for a traditional publisher, then it isn’t good enough to be self-published either. The only difference between the two should be the method, not the quality of the production.”

“Are you the sort of person who likes dealing with other people and nitty-gritty details and essentially juggling three different jobs and contracting out the rest?”

If you said yes to both of these, then you could self-publish. But that doesn’t mean you should. Should is a matter of business sense. It’s a matter of your feelings, your dreams and your goals, and that is the part where I can’t, and no one ever should, tell you what to do.

If you enjoyed this then why not check out some of my other discussions on writing and publishing in my Storywork series? Check out my You Tube channel for Storywork videos or follow me on Facebook!

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